A Florida zoo has issued a “profound and sincere apology” after it sparked outrage from thousands of New Zealanders about its treatment of one of their national birds.
Zoo Miami said “concerns expressed” about the kiwi called Paora had “been taken very seriously,” after a video emerged on social media earlier this week of the bird being taken out of his enclosure and being firmly patted.
The footage also showed the nocturnal creature entering a wooden box to seek a darker environment, only for someone to lift up the lid and expose him to a brightly lit audience.
Within hours of the video appearing, an online petition complaining about his treatment had garnered thousands of signatures and New Zealand's prime minister and Conservation Department had commented on the matter.
Paora was “being handled by dozens of strangers, petted on his sensitive whiskers, laughed at, and shown off like a toy,” wrote Jeseka Christieson, who launched the petition.
“Kiwi are nocturnal animals, who should be kept in suitable dark enclosures, and minimally handled. He is unable to exercise natural behavior,” she said.
“We hope this petition can reach someone who has the power to spark an investigation into his conditions, and relocate him to a more suitable environment,” added Christieson, who hails from Hamilton, a city on New Zealand's North Island.
Her statement echoes the advice issued in a Kiwi Best Practice Manual published by the Conservation Department, which warns that the “mainly nocturnal” birds should not be “taken out of their burrows just for the purposes of allowing people to see and touch them,” because they lack protection around the ribcage and vital organs.
Several people who signed Christieson’s petition also expressed their outrage at Paora’s treatment. One described his treatment as “shameful” and “atrocious.”
Others took to Twitter to complain, including wildlife photographer Holly Neill, who wrote that his treatment was “upsetting.”
“I’m so mad about this. It’s being kept awake during the day despite being a nocturnal species,” she said.
Asked about Paora’s treatment Tuesday, New Zealand Prime Minister Chris Hipkins told reporters that he thought it showed his compatriots “show a lot of pride in our national bird when they’re overseas and they do take action when they see kiwi’s being mistreated.”
In a Twitter post, the Conservation Department said it would be “discussing the situation with the American Association of Zoos & Aquariums to address some of the housing and handling concerns raised.”
In a statement, Zoo Miami offered a “profound and sincere apology for the stress initiated by a video on social media depicting the handling and housing of ‘Paora,’ the kiwi bird that is presently under our care.”
It added that the “Kiwi Encounter” which gave visitors a chance to pet the animal for $25, would “no longer be offered.”
“Though Paora has thrived at Zoo Miami while receiving the best care available, the development of the Kiwi Encounter was, in hindsight, not well conceived with regard to the national symbolism of this iconic animal and what it represents to the people of New Zealand, especially the Maori,” it said.
“Plans are presently underway to build a special habitat for him that will continue to provide him with the shelter that he needs while respecting and supporting his natural instincts,” it added. “It will be developed in such a way that we can teach our guests about the amazing kiwi without any direct contact from the public.”